To keep the positively glacial pace of this look at all the theatrically released Disney animated feature films up, let’s talk about the little film that helped pull Disney out of financial trouble. After the artistically successful, but financially disastrous Fantasia, Disney intentionally went for a much simpler, and consequently, less expensive direction with their next animated feature film – Dumbo. The film had a budget of less than half of Fantasia’s, which was a clear sign of Disney pushing for a more economic production this time.
The first sign of this one might notice is the film’s much shorter than usual running time, clocking in at just 64 minutes Dumbo remains one of Disney’s shortest feature animations, and comparing it once again to Fantasia, was over 60 minutes shorter than Walt Disney’s ambitious artistic triumph. In addition to the length, it also lacked the intricately detailed animation of the first three animated films from Disney, with much simpler character designs and backgrounds used here. And the thing is, it worked. Dumbo was a financial success, helping Disney get back up following two animated films that lost the studio money. Besides, even with the cutbacks, this is still a beautifully animated film.
What matters the most, of course, is whether the film is still good or not despite these behind-the-scenes limitations. The main difference between the first three Disney films and Dumbo is that while the previous films were all constantly breaking new ground and inventing new ways to tell stories through animation, this one is ultimately ”just” a kids’ film. That is not to say that the film doesn’t have darker elements as well, with many scenes mixing some very dark imagery and emotionally heavy subjects in with the more child-friendly scenes and moments.
In nearly every aspect, this is a good film, even if only a few things in it are truly great. The story is heartwarming, Dumbo is a likable main character, the side characters are suitably entertaining and provide a lot of funny moments, and the music is really good as one would expect from a Disney film. Also, one detail I really like is how Dumbo doesn’t speak in the film, even though most other animal character do, meaning that every emotion he has to convey is done simply through animation, the way his expressions and movements change over the course of a scene, and it works wonderfully. It really shows the skill of the animators and how deep and often painful emotions can be shown without having to say a single word, and it makes Dumbo stand out from other characters in the film. It’s a great little touch that gives the film a wonderful additional element.
As everyone probably knows, Dumbo is a story of a baby elephant born with unusually large ears, a feature that leads to him being ridiculed and eventually ostracized by those around him. The sole exception to this being a circus mouse called Timothy who befriends the young elephant and becomes something of a guardian to him. Of course, he eventually learns, with the help of some alcohol fueled dreams, that his ears actually allow him to fly. This naturally makes him a sensation in the world of entertainment, and proves those who doubted him wrong in the end.
I must also mention the two moments this film is usually best remembered for, which play almost back to back in the story. The first is the scene where Dumbo, miserable because of his new position as a clown in the circus, goes to meet his mother who has been locked up in isolation after trying to defend her son from people who were making fun of him. This scene with the song ”Baby Mine” is one of Disney’s earliest emotionally heavy moments that can leave a person a teary-eyed mess. The other scene is, obviously, ”Pink Elephants on Parade”, one of Disney’s most psychedelic animated sections ever. It really felt like the animators going all out, throwing every strange and unusual thing they could think of at the screen, and it’s amazing.
I have a lot of personal nostalgia towards Dumbo, as it’s one of the Disney films I saw by far the most when I was a kid, but even with that in mind this is still a very good film. It’s perhaps not quite among the studio’s greatest classics, but there’s a reason it’s still remembered so fondly, nearly 80 years after its original release. If you for some reason haven’t seen it yet, fix that as soon as possible. Dumbo is a charming little film that won’t take much of your time away, but will likely leave a lasting memory behind once its over regardless. Not a masterpiece, but a highly enjoyable film nonetheless.
With that said, stay tuned for the next article in this series, which I’m sure will be coming out sometime within the next two years or so. Until then, hope you enjoyed this look at Dumbo. Next time, Bambi.